J. Michael Smith, Esq.
Michael P. Farris, Esq.
A Response to Robin L. West—“The Harms of Homeschooling”
January 5, 2010
While few people in academia are openly critical of homeschooling, every now and again an article will be published in a university periodical which attacks homeschooling.
The critics in academia come from the far left of the political spectrum. One such critic, Robin L. West of the Georgetown University Law Center, recently published an article titled “The Harms of Homeschooling,” which appeared in the Summer/Fall 2009 issue of the University of Maryland’s Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly.
Before we answer the specific charges Ms. West makes against homeschooling we’d just like to give you a flavor of her perspective.
In the article she says, “Education, after all, is typically described as a core, and possibly the core, state responsibility.” We hope you’d agree that anyone who can entertain the idea that education is the core responsibility of the state (even though education is not mentioned as a state responsibility in the U.S. Constitution) and neglect to recognize that defense/national security is the core responsibility of the state is clearly out of the mainstream.
Later in the article Ms. West says, “Homeschooling is now such an entrenched practice, recriminalization is not a viable option in any event.” It appears that Ms. West is suggesting that she would not oppose regarding homeschoolers as criminals?
While Ms. West’s views are far from the mainstream, it is still important to challenge the erroneous statements made in her article.
One of her points is that U.S. courts do not recognize the fundamental right of parents to raise their own children, and by extension the right to homeschool. She adds, however, “Federal courts may someday acknowledge the existence of this right.”
Thankfully, Ms. West is wrong. The United States Supreme Court has acknowledged the fundamental right of parents to raise and educate their own children.
In 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court declared: “The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right and high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Pierce v. Society of Sisters [268 U.S. 510 (1925)].
In 1972, in Wisconsin v. Yoder (406 U.S. 205), the Court described parental rights as fundamental, saying: “This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established as an enduring American tradition.”
In 2000, the Court declared that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).
Of course, the views of judges and their interpretation of the Constitution could change, but to say that the current jurisprudence does not uphold parental rights is simply wrong.
Further in the article Ms. West lays out her reasons for strictly regulating homeschoolers. Her first charge is that homeschoolers could be abusing their children. It is simply not true that homeschooling is used as a cover for child abuse. Ms. West cites no evidence to support her claim. In our experience parents who claim to be homeschooling but are later revealed to be child abusers are already well known to the authorities.
The latest example is from the Detroit News, which also took the view that homeschoolers should be regulated due to the potential for hiding child abuse. While the examples used by the Detroit News were tragic, they were of children who were being abused while in the public school system and then later removed by their parents. The children were well known to authorities, and there was nothing preventing the authorities in Michigan from following up on these children.
Regrettably, tragedies do occur, and no amount of regulation can ensure that all children will be safe all the time. Unfortunately, even in the most heavily regulated area of education—the public school—children suffer serious injury and death. It is a sad fact that some parents mistreat their children, and society rightly devotes time and resources to protecting children from abusive parents. But Ms. West is suggesting that states should spend tens of millions of dollars investigating all homeschooling families in an attempt to uncover child abuse. This would be unwise in light of the fact that there is no assurance that increasing the regulation of homeschoolers would prevent child abuse.
Ms. West also wants to force immunizations on homeschooled children. Some parents object to vaccines because of safety concerns, religious objections, or because of their medical history. It should also be noted that there have been no public health repercussions from a relatively few people opting out of vaccination programs.
West also makes the unusual claim that homeschooled children will not properly understand citizenship unless they are in a public school classroom. Being active and engaged citizens is a distinction of homeschooling. Simply reading the studies on homeschoolers participation in society should convince any fair-minded person of whether homeschooled graduates are active, engaged citizens. For example, in the 2004 study Homeschooling Grows Up, which surveyed over 7,300 homeschooled graduates, it was discovered that 71.1% of homeschool graduates participated in a community service activity (volunteering, coaching, neighborhood association etc.) compared with 37% of the general population.
Ms. West is also very concerned about the participation in civic and political campaigns by homeschooled fundamentalist Protestants, which would seem to contradict her earlier point about homeschoolers and citizenship. In any event, it appears that Ms. West simply does not like a Christian point of view being presented in the public square.
Perhaps the most condescending statement made by Ms. West is her assertion that the typical fundamentalist, Protestant homeschooling family lives, “in trailer parks, 1,000-square-foot homes, houses owned by relatives, and some, on tarps in fields or parking lots. Their lack of job skills, passed from one generation to the next, depresses the community’s overall economic health and their state’s tax base.”
It is truly sad when someone in a position of authority can make such a statement. While we do not doubt that some homeschoolers find themselves in less advantageous socio-economic circumstances, who is to say that a 1,000-square-foot house is inadequate to raise a family. Also, perhaps Ms. West is unaware, but some homeschool families travel between campsites and trailer parks because they are “homeschooling on the road.”
Ms. West also seems to be unaware that all the studies of homeschool graduates have shown homeschoolers to be outperforming their peers not only in community activity but also in employment income. The latest study from the Canadian Centre for Home Education, titled Fifteen Years Later: Home Educated Canadian Adults, showed that the average homeschooler aged 15–34 earned $27,534 Canadian dollars as opposed to the average in the general population for 15–34 year olds of $22,117. Ninety-five percent of the respondents in this study considered themselves to be religious with 74% attending religious services at least once per week.
After making her case for regulating homeschooling Ms. West concludes that, “The sanction for failure to comply with minimal curriculum, content, visitation, and testing requirements would simply be enrollment in a certified private or public school.”
In other words, if a homeschool family does not re-create the public school in the home, subject itself to the authority of the state by allowing home visits, and allow the state to control the curriculum via testing, then the sanction would “simply” be enrollment in a private or public school.
Sadly, Ms. West does not appear to have any understanding of why parents homeschool and must realize that if her policies were ever implemented, it would end homeschooling as we know it today.
It is unfortunate that homeschooling still has persistent critics who seem unable to grasp what makes homeschooling such a successful method of education.
Hundreds of thousands of parents, and over 2 million homeschooled children, are experiencing the benefits and blessings of a home education. As Michael Farris, chairman of HSLDA and president of ParentalRights.org points out, a restrictive approach to home education is at odds with the fundamental notions of freedom and liberty on which Western nations are built. “Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience.”
We are thankful that we still live in a free nation, but of course, without eternal vigilance our freedoms can be lost.
By joining together in an organization like HSLDA we can continue to effectively defend the right to homeschool.